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Christmas gloom Thousands of Irish affected by new Tier 4 Covid-19 lockdown in England

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Boris Johnson is holding crisis talks with ministers amid fears over the spread of the new variant coronavirus (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson is holding crisis talks with ministers amid fears over the spread of the new variant coronavirus (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson is holding crisis talks with ministers amid fears over the spread of the new variant coronavirus (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Plans by thousands of Irish people resident in London and the wider area to return home for Christmas have been thrown onto doubt by a new Tier 4 lockdown across the south east of England.

The measures will see all non-essential shops, gyms, and hairdressers close, with people ordered to stay home apart from limited exceptions such as work - if people cannot work from home - education, childcare and exercise.

Millions of people in the area will also no longer be able to mix with other households at Christmas, as the equivalent to a full lockdown comes into force today.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced "with a very heavy heart" that the planned five-day easing of restrictions over the festive period will now be limited to a single day.

"We cannot continue with Christmas as planned," said Mr Johnson.

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Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Photo: PA Video/PA Wire

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Photo: PA Video/PA Wire

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Photo: PA Video/PA Wire

The action has been prompted by the government's fears over a new strain of coronavirus - known as VUI-202012/01 - which is believed to spread more quickly than the original strain and is judged to be the reason for rapidly rising infection rates in the South East.

Mr Johnson said it could be up to "70% more transmissible", and that the situation had given him "no alternative" but to toughen up restrictions.

"Our advisers on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) have spent the last few days analysing this new variant - there's no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality but it does appear to be passed on significantly more quickly," he said.

Covid-19 cases have been nearly doubling in London over the past few weeks, while in Kent, cases have continued to rise despite the county having been under Tier 3 measures since the end of last month's lockdown.

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